Life in the Moment
Parallel Vision Productions | Michelle Melles
The doctor calls me into one of those random side rooms you see in hospitals corridors and tells me my husband has lung cancer.
“It’s moderately aggressive,” he says, “and he has two seven-centimeter tumors growing in his left lung – one of which is in his lymph nodes.” I hear these words but feel absurdly detached – like I’m watching a movie or in a dream that’s my life, but somehow not my life. My husband has never smoked and he’s always been strong and healthy, and this moment is completely surreal.
And as he seemed to be dying, I felt myself plummeting to the ground – and it was a painful freefall.
What was at first ‘surreal’ became brutal ‘reality’ as he went through round after round of chemo and radiation. I helplessly watched as he became skinnier and skinnier, as his skin became grayer and grayer, as his beautiful, thick hair fell out by the handfuls and as his life force began to wither away. And as he seemed to be dying, I felt myself plummeting to the ground – and it was a painful freefall.
When I landed on the ground, there was nowhere to go. I couldn’t look forward into the future without being gripped with debilitating fear. When I looked back, I would either romanticize our relationship, or I was filled with regret, and that made life equally painful. And my family – both Pedro and my two children – needed me more than ever.
It was here, in the quiet centre of a tornado, that I began to find pleasure again.
Given my circumstances, I was prescribed anti-anxiety, anti-depression and sleeping pills which helped a little bit. But the truth is, it was only when I began to live – body, mind, and spirit – in the moment that I was able to find my strength. It was here, in the quiet centre of a tornado, that I began to find pleasure again.
Pleasure happened when I recognized and accepted my fear and vulnerability, started to practice self-compassion and loving-kindness, and began to open myself up to life’s boundless, healing energy. At first, I did this by simply sitting still, closing my eyes, and bringing my attention to my breath – over and over. I desperately needed strength and peace – but it was my suffering that put me on a path towards grace and enlightenment.
At some point I began looking into ancient wisdoms. I was struck by the iconic image of the Buddha sitting in meditation with his left hand, palm upright, in his lap and his right hand touching the earth. Buddha means “awake” in Sanskrit. The story is that as the young prince became the Buddha, the demon Mara – the lord of desire – whose name means “death or destruction” – sent armies of monsters to attack him. But he sat still, and untouched. Mara demanded, “Who says you are enlightened? Who says you are awake?” And the Buddha touched his hand to the earth in a gesture of ultimate genuineness and unshakeable self-realization. This gesture said, “the earth is my witness. My experience is real.” Mara disappeared.
When death is actually rushing towards you – life has a funny way of slowing down.
It was through this story that I realized so many of us are busy filling our lives with meaningless things and consumed with myriad desires, obsessions and false expectations (for ourselves and others) – like hamsters on a wheel – we go around and around. We rush, and we chase, but what are we all rushing towards – our death? And when death is actually rushing towards you – life has a funny way of slowing down.
The more mindful and self-compassionate we are in the present, the more pleasure we experience. But it takes daily practice (what you practice you become…). For me, mindfulness meditation, yoga, Qigong and prayer are all practices that I need to find the power of courage – body, mind, and spirit. They help me be strong – like a warrior – grounded, centred and aware.
I’ve become more aware of my environment, aware of how I act, what I eat, how I treat others, my family and the planet, and the ways in which we are all interconnected. I’ve begun to slow my impulses down and become open to the pleasure and wonder of life itself. And with this renewed energy, I’ve been able to give my family the love and support they need.
During the worst of my husband’s cancer, he lost interest in everything – food, sex, music, conversation – all forms of pleasure. He was so scarily close to death that he lost most of his energy. He could barely stand up.
He says, ‘cancer has been a blessing’ because it’s shifted his experience of life – and pleasure – so much.
But at some point, like a resurrection, he came back to life. He started to enjoy food, play music again, laugh, walk, ride his bicycle, to work, make conversation, and become a sexual being once again. He also grew his hair back and now it’s curly! (They call them “chemo curls”.) And now, he says, life is in Technicolor. Everything is incredibly bright, light and translucent, so much so, that he says, ‘cancer has been a blessing’ because it’s shifted his experience of life – and pleasure – so much.
Recently, we found out that his cancer is ‘in remission’ and we yelled with joy, we cried and we drank a bottle of champagne. But death is always on the horizon (for all of us). So we won’t ever stop living moment by Technicolor moment – awake, aware, and open – with both feet on the ground.